Our friends. That’s what we call them–“survivors of captivity.”
Things are improving. The whole family has passports, and not without our help. I’m glad this blog contains not only sad stories but also positive ones, when one has something to smile about or be proud of. I’m glad you and us were to help this family.
All the documents, and all of their lives, remained over there, in Ukraine. Where both husband and wife have arrest warrants for “separatism.” There is no way back for them. Everything–their property and belongings, elderly parents, relatives, is back there. But they don’t have any contact with anyone anymore, “so that nobody is placed in danger.”
They went through a grinder. Vitaliy spent a long time in captivity in Ukraine where he had all of his teeth knocked out and was badly injured. Natasha and her son was in hiding until they managed to escape into LPR where they finally were able to relax. Vitaliy was in the militia from the start. Natasha helped organized the referendum in Rubezhnoye. It’s a miracle they were able to hide. They went from apartment to apartment for months, unable to even go out to shop…
Now they live in a Lugansk dorm. Their son has improved, the problem was in poor nutrition of the whole family. He’s had several hunger-induced blackouts, nervous system issues, and serious headaches.
Aaa! It’s you, my dearest! Come on in!
We barely entered and I was already being hugged and suffocated. The apartment is piled high with boxes, clothes, with the mysteriously smiling Diana among them, as well as the camera-avoiding Seryozha.
We didn’t know where to look. Elena Fyodorovna with her two grandkids, after February of ’15 was left without a home. Their stairwell in the apartment block on Makushkin St. in Pervomaysk was hit by a shell and collapsed. At that time they were in Russia. On July 28, 2014, Seryozha, Elena Fyodorovna’s grandson, was wounded and since then has been living with a shell fragment in his head. He was taken to Russia for treatment, which is when that one shell deprived them of everything they owned. Since then they’ve been living in an apartment temporarily provided by Olga Ishchenko, at that time the acting mayor of Pervomaysk.
The house was rebuilt last summer but we haven’t seen each other since that time and didn’t know where to find them. It turned out they were still in the old apartment, getting ready to move.
It’s been a year, and Seryozha is 14, but it seems he hasn’t changed at all. Still the same short, skinny kid with incredibly sad eyes. Hasn’t grown up at all…
I have an incredible pile of reports on the recent aid work in Lugansk. I don’t know where to start. Then there’s the damned injury which has temporarily deprived me of sports, which is always dangerous to people around me. Peaceful atom, if not released, may become dangerous.
So I’ve decided to remind New Year is nigh.
My first visit to the Donbass was in late ’14, when there was active fighting. We were bringing food to Pervomaysk bomb shelters and we didn’t even reflect on the fact it was almost New Year. The second trip was a week later, right before the holiday–December 28. At that time people wanting to help the inhabitants of the Donbass were bringing us everything they had available–matches, clothing, noodles, canned meat. A friend came with 15 holiday boxes of chocolate. He brought them and said “give them to the kids there–it’s a holiday there too.”
“It’s a holiday there too”–that phrase sounded surreal. I didn’t get its meaning, threw the boxes into the truck and we took off down m4 in the darkness.
What kind of Grandfather Frost, what kind of a holiday can you expect? There’s nothing there! People are freezing and starving–that’s how it was in Pervomaysk in ’14. My head was full of the explosions and of the destroyed houses.
Sasha’s father died on March 6, 2015. He and his brother went off to join the militia almost at the very beginning. “Off to war…”. Who back then knew what “war” was? Sasha’s uncle had two serious injuries and a wound. He’s practically disabled and can’t either serve or find work.
Sasha lives with his grandmother in Lugansk. The boy’s mother left him with his father when he was very little. It’s a rare case, but not totally unheard of.
On the photo Sasha with a photo of his dad, also Sasha…
Aleksandr the elder was not quite 40 when he died.
It was dark when we arrived without warning to visit Alyona and Marina.
A dark stairwell, a poorly lit street. Light on the first floor. We knock but nobody opens the door. We knock on the window–silence.
We stand in the stairwell and don’t know what to do. We left their phone numbers at home.
Lena says incredulously: “The light is on–they should be home. Where else would they be? The little one is back from school, Marina is also back from work. They never go anywhere.”
Ten minutes later a tiny thin lady shows up and immediately goes on the attack: “Do you have business here?”
After every trip to Lugansk I get asked: “how are things over there?” Well, let me tell you–as usual. In other words, bad.
In actuality, things are going this way and that way, and life goes on. Roads are better, many damaged buildings were rebuilt or restored. Some shattered schools or kindergartens were reopened. New shops and cafes are opening. It’s hard to imagine, but there’s nowhere to park downtown. These are good signs. Signs of life. And it would be dishonest for me to write there’s hunger, it’s horrible. Not, it’s not sheer horror. You can find expensive sausage, even caviar, as well as expensive imported cars.
There are people who can afford these delicacies and drive such cars. Those who can will rise to the surface in any situation. Such people only need to be given a hand to jump up and take-off running again.
The Lugansk City Center for Social Services is assisting 13 families with foster children.
You know some of them. For example, the Testeshnikovs, whose daughter Kristina is an insulin-dependent diabetic. We’ve brought her test-strips more than once.
The Testeshnikovs actually have two foster daughters, and not only Kristina has health problems. The second girl has heart problems.
The Testeshnikovs took in the two girls when they were not very young, and at the time they were healthy. The problems appeared later. They did not give the girls back. What do you think–is it right, and incorrect, for me to view this father and mother as heroes? And incorrect when they behave otherwise? Because it’s normal for many people return foster kids when they discover these types of problems. When they discover pathologies and disabilities, even after many years of living together. How many stories like that did we hear in orphanages. Therefore I’m happy even in situations where it should be a normal thing to do.
The parents love the girls and are doing their best to take care of them.
Remember Natasha from Lugansk, for whom we collected money two years ago to buy a hearing aid?
She’s in difficult situation. Can’t find work, and has to take care of two kids. Her hearing got worse after she found herself under shellfire in ’14, so much so she can’t hear at all. The aid helped, but she still asks to repeat almost every phrase.
They live off child benefits and occasional piecework. But she hasn’t found a permanent job. LPR has big problems with work. Many factories, mines are closed for obvious reasons.
That’s where things stand.
In September, Natasha climbed a tree to pick some nuts and fell. Broke a leg and is now hopping on crutches.
Just to top things off, her electricity was cut off for nonpayment.
It’s been almost four years since Donbass started living in a new reality. At first, this reality was a horror that nobody could accept. Many locals couldn’t believe their fellow citizens were shooting at them. They couldn’t believe something like that was possible. Many left and reordered their lives.
Many since returned. And many others never left. Didn’t manage in time, weren’t able, had no place to go. It’s been four years, and life there goes on. It probably did not cease being a horror. At least to us, who don’t live there. But for those who DO, this horror is simply a given, it’s taken for granted. Life there is different but it does go on. With its own powerful rhythm. Lugansk has restaurants, supermarkets. In the evenings, people come out for strolls and the youth is populating boulevards, like everywhere else in the world. One can sometimes hear volleys and explosions from the outskirts. This is now background noise to which nobody pays attention. There are nightly battles along the separation line. But life goes on in the most direct sense of the word. Maternity wards are full.